“People who aren't from Boston or don't have family members affected, people's day-to-day life resumes and people move on,” Cooper tells TheWrap. “So we really wanted to keep going back to Boston and focus on Adrianne [Haslet-Davis] and her family and the impact of this event and just remind people of really what happened to somebody that survives.”
A year later, the aftermath of the Boston bombing is still being felt by the hundreds of people who were caught in the terrorist attack, but Adrianne Haslet-Davis, who lost her leg in the blast, has defied expectations of doctors with her recovery, as seen in a new CNN special, “The Survivor Diaries,” hosted by Anderson Cooper, airing Tuesday at 10 p.m.
Haslet-Davis has been dancing eight to ten hours a day for years, teaching and participating in competitive ballroom dancing before the bombing disrupted her life.
A week after the bombing, Cooper met with her and introduced viewers to her inspirational story.
“We got in touch with her mom initially,” Cooper told TheWrap. “Her mom had flown into Boston and we had talked to her and asked if Adrianne wanted to talk and that's how we wound up in her hospital room in those early days and I don't think she had talked to anybody yet but she was very optimistic. She was very determined to not let this define her and move on with her life.”
“He came in and sat by my bedside and we really bonded and he wanted to do anything he could to help, I made a promise to him that I would teach him to dance, it was wonderful to do that,” Haslet-Davis said.
She says her injury was a very alien experience, and had a very difficult time coming to grips with it.
“I hope the special will help other people and be able to encourage others to follow their dreams,” she adds. “I hope that it inspires people. It's a very honest look at what it's like to go through something like this.”
“When I was sitting in her hospital room for the first time, I was amazed at her optimism and her determination to be able to continue her life and continue the things that she loves,” Cooper said.
“She still wasn't sure about how she'd recover in those early days, she was still learning about prosthetics, it all happened very fast obviously, and she was stabilized, she was doing OK, she knew she would need a prosthetic… but when you lose part of a limb it's obviously better to have some part of the leg below the knee,” Cooper explained.
“In that way she was fortunate,” he said. “It makes a huge difference in terms of what kind of prosthetic you end up getting, so she knew that it was going to be a long process of rehabilitation, she knew it would be a long process of learning to walk again, but I don't think she fully understood how tough it would be to dance again. It was a desire of her to dance again.”
Cooper stressed to TheWrap how important it was for him to handle Haslet-Davis’ interview with sensitivity:
“It's something you certainly learn from experience, when I first started at age 22, I started in wars, you just try to be yourself and be very clear about why you're there and be very attuned to the other person and you listen a lot. I'm very aware in a situation like this of listening to the person and try to understand why they want to speak and what message they want to get out and I want to help them do that. I'm very cautious and careful in any questions I ask people, even how I phrase questions, I put a lot of thought in it, it's just being a decent human being and relating to the person as a person and not a reporter asking questions.”
“I actually talked to people all the time who had been survivors of bombings, who've survived combat, who've survived natural disasters and earthquakes, in fact, my first job as a reporter ever I snuck into Burma and I met up with some students who were fighting the Burmese government, and they weren't trained fighters, they had been students the year before and they now found themselves in the jungle. So from my earliest days, I really did end up focusing most of my time on just regular people who have found themselves in situations not of their making or beyond their control and in some ways it's different than talking to a soldier who has gone into combat, but in the end everybody is a human being and reacts as a human being even if you're a trained professional or a solider, you're still a person who has a family and has hopes and dreams for what you're life is going to be and something like this changes all of that.”
Cooper said that it was an incredible experience getting to follow Haslet-Davis for her recovery.
“I think when you see something like the bombings in Boston, people pay attention but then people who aren't from Boston or don't have family members affected, people's day-to-day life resumes and people move on and yet for people who have experienced the trauma, it's not so easy to just move on and this past year has been a completely different year for them than it has been for most other people. It's rare that you have the opportunity to follow somebody — you're there for the immediate event and the media moves on as well — so we really wanted to keep going back to Boston and focus on Adrianne and her family and the impact of this event and just remind people of really what happen to somebody that survives. Once everybody else moves on, they're left with the reality of their situation and they're left with the difficult moments, and the triumphs and the heartbreaks and we wanted to document all of them show people the reality of what this year has been like for one survivor.”
Just as he had promised, Cooper got the opportunity to get a dance lesson with Haslet-Davis.
“I wouldn't even call what I did ballroom dancing,” he confessed. “But I was sort of shuffling on my feet and trying to not make a complete fool of myself. The first time that I met her, we were in the hospital room and I sort of said in passing, I'd love to take a lesson from you, I was trying to be positive and we were having a fun time together and it just seemed like a nice thing to say and then I realized as she agreed to let us follow her for the year, I suddenly realized, oh my goodness, this means I'm going to have to dance with her but she's going to hold me to this promise and it's probably going to be on camera.”
“I'm not about to audition for Dancing With the Stars anytime soon!” Cooper exclaims.
Anderson Cooper speaks with Boston bombing survivor Adrianne Haslet-Davis on his new special “The Survivor Diaries,” airing Tuesday at 10 p.m.
Watch a clip: